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Mobile manicures get approval, rules from the state

Former policy only approved salons

A customer received a manicure in her office from startup Manicube.
A customer received a manicure in her office from startup Manicube.(Ben franke/file 2014)

Consider it a win for entrepreneurs.

A state board that regulates nail salons adopted a new policy earlier this month allowing “mobile” manicurists to visit offices, homes, and other locations. The previous policy permitted nail services to conduct business only at licensed brick-and-mortar salons.

Mobile services became an issue last year when traditional salon owners complained that a startup called Manicube was not subject to the same regulations.

Based in New York, Manicube said it caters to busy working women who don’t have time to stop by a salon during the day. The company performs routine nail services at about 60 corporate offices in Massachusetts, as well as other businesses in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

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The issue parallels problems state regulators have come across in other industries as innovative new businesses fall outside typical policy guidelines. Regulators have also struggled to develop a license process for car services such as Uber and the hospitality site Airbnb.

Last year, the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Cosmetology and Barbering launched an ongoing investigation into the company. The board later warned Manicube that it was operating in violation of state law.

Manicube said its business fell into a legal gray area because regulations did not specifically address mobile manicurists. The company said it worked with the state to provide more information about its business model and continued to operate despite the warning.

Charles Borstel, director of the state Division of Professional Licensure, said this month’s policy change was prompted by the consolidation of three separate regulatory boards — the Board of Registration Cosmetology, the Board of Registration of Barbers, and the Board of Registration of Electrologists — into a single board in May.

He said the previous board believed Manicube was in violation of state regulations, while the new board took a different approach to the issue.

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“The current board took a look at it and realized [industry change] is coming and we want to regulate it instead of being obstructionists to it,” Borstel said. “It’s a common sense look at it instead of turning a blind eye. I have to applaud their action on this.”

The founders of Manicube said they are pleased with the new rules, which ban the application of acrylic nails at remote locations and only approve the use of nail enamel.

The new policy also sets strict sanitation guidelines, including a requirement that manicurists use only disposable tools.

“At the end of the day, we were just excited that the board was interested in learning about these new business models like ours,” said cofounder Elizabeth Whitman. “The fact that this license requires a certain level of hygiene, sterilization, proper insurance, and employment practices is a good standard to set for the industry.”


Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @TarynLuna.